As a teacher, I admire the hell out of my colleagues. I've been teaching for almost two decades, and the vast majority of educators with whom I've worked during that time are outstanding professionals who care deeply about their students.
This does not mean that all teachers and school administrators are perfect, and sometimes they can be downright stupid.
Here are three things that educators do that need to cease immediately:
1. Stop using writing as a form of punishment.
Just last week, a friend told me that her daughter - a middle schooler - was required to write a five page essay as punishment for a recent infraction.
This is backwards and asinine, and it needs to stop. It also flies in the face of all research done on this subject.
It's hard enough to get students excited about writing today. With so few teachers of writing actually engaging in the writing process in an authentic and meaningful way, writing instruction is often boiled down to a simplistic, uninspired, unrealistic, formulaic approach. Add to this the idea that writing is also a viable means of punishment, and we have all but guaranteed that students will stop all meaningful and expressive writing once they are done with school.
Writing is not punishment. Writing is a glorious means of self expression. Writing represents the ability to exist beyond the moment. It's a means by which to process thoughts and feelings on the page. It's a way to create something new and remarkable in this world.
When it is allowed to be just that, students will learn to love to write.
When you turn writing into a form of punishment, you're an idiot who doesn't understand writing. Or kids. Or education in general.
2. Stop telling kids what they can't be.
It seems like every other week, I hear some highly accomplished person in an interview or as a part of their memoir tell the story of an idiotic teacher who said they didn't have the talent to succeed in their chosen field.
"You'll never make it in the music industry."
"You just don't have the talent to compete in the literary world."
"You should think about a more reasonable career. Maybe in sales or marketing?"
A teacher has no business telling student what he or she can't do. Even if every fiber of your being says that the kid will never play the French horn in the New York Symphony or doesn't stand a chance in the world of investment banking, shut the hell up. It's not your business to squash dreams. Teachers are in the business of creating as many possibilities as possible for their students through education, inspiration, and enlightenment.
If the kid will never play the French horn professionally, let him discover that for himself.
If your struggling math student won't ever be hired by even the shadiest of investment banks, let that happen in its own time.
While we don't want students putting all their eggs in one basket, we have no business stomping on any eggs, either. It is only through incredible arrogance and ridiculous hubris that we should even begin to think that we can predict the future of a 15-year old kid.
Had you asked my high school teachers if I would ever become a novelist, storyteller, wedding DJ, business owner, or even a teacher, I suspect few would have seen any of those careers in my future.
Thankfully, none of them told me what I couldn't do. Instead, they tried to fill me with the knowledge and skills required to do whatever I damn well pleased.
3. Stop acting like bigots.
Last week a high school in Pennsylvania barred a student from attending her prom because she chose to wear a tuxedo rather than a dress. The school says the student, Aniya Wolf, failed to follow a clear dress code for the prom that was laid out months in advance. “The dress code for the prom specified girls must wear formal dresses,” the school said in a statement. “It also stated that students who failed to follow the dress code would not be admitted.”
Even if that's true - and there is some evidence that this dress code was only imposed after learning that Wolf would be wearing a tuxedo - this is a bigoted, ass-backward policy that can only be described as homophobic and stupid.
Two weeks ago a North Carolina school banned transgender students from using their preferred restroom, even though the student in question had been doing so for years without incident.
Another North Carolina school system has adopted a policy allowing high school students to carry pepper spray this fall, a policy one board member said may be useful for students who encounter transgender classmates in the bathroom.
This is insanity. Schools are supposed to be places of enlightenment. They should be looking to make this world better for all students regardless of their gender or sexual preference. Instead, these school systems and others like it are standing in opposition to reform that has already been accepted by much of the country and the world.
If the White House or IBM or Disney or Apple or Ford Motor Company was hosting a black tie gala, do we think for a moment that they would bar a woman from attending the event because she chose to wear a tuxedo?
Of course not.
If a transgender person at one of these same black tie galas chose to use the restroom that matched his or her gender, do we think that President Obama or Ginni Rometty or Michael Eisner or Tim Cook or Mark Fields would require their guest to use the restroom that best matched their genitals?
Of course not.
The world is moving on and changing rapidly. We have begun to accept differences in gender identity and sexual preference at a remarkably rapid rate, but in certain corners of the world, educators are taking ass-backward stances and clinging to ancient values that only serve to marginalize students who don't quite fit their 1950's paradigm of appropriate behavior.
It's an embarrassment. It's a disgrace. It's a black eye on an otherwise noble profession. Teachers, administrators, and school boards must stop it now or otherwise be forever be remember as people who were on the wrong side of history when so many people were moving so quickly to the right side.